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Who we are, and what we do

Inside Passages was founded in 1994 by Kurt Hoelting, an Alaska commercial fisherman, Zen student and former Protestant clergyman. For twenty-five years he has been head guide and lead teacher on over seventy week-long mindfulness-based kayaking expeditions in Southeast Alaska. Some retreats are open to all comers, and some are geared to specific professional groups or leadership teams. All are designed to enlist the power of wilderness as an ally in healing the growing rift between human nature and wild nature. Bringing together his knowledge and love of both meditation practice and Alaska's sublime wilderness, these trips are a rare opportunity to come home to ourselves, and home to the wider nature to which we all belong. 

Based out of Keene Channel Lodge, at the junction of the Wrangell Narrows and Beecher Pass, Inside Passages retreats are held near the northern end of the famous Inside Passage shipping route that runs for 1000 miles along the Northwest Coast from Puget Sound north through British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. Our retreats are nestled in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, the largest and wildest temperate rain forest left on the planet. Drawing upon the practice of mindfulness meditation, qi gong and yoga, we also enjoy daily contemplative kayaking in the sheltered waters, islands and channels surrounding Keene Channel Lodge. Some of our retreats feature a two-night camping experience at the nearby Castle Islands in Duncan Canal, and some are based exclusively at the lodge. Together we re-discover the power that lies within, when it is linked to the power of wild nature. We remember our more-than-human wholeness, and in the process become more human ourselves. 

We believe that the cultivation of this capacity, this direct experience of wholeness and spaciousness, is vital not only to our personal well being, but to the healing of a planet in peril. To be present to the enormity of the challenges we face with a steady, resilient heart and mind, is an act of love that has never been more needed. Inside Passages retreats join a spirit of adventure with this quest for a deeper wholeness. Please join us on this adventure of a lifetime. 

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Core values of Inside Passages Trainings and Retreats

  • Relationship Matters. Human beings are profoundly relational creatures. We learn best, and live most fully, when we function within a matrix of meaningful and supportive relationships. Mindfulness offers powerful tools for building authentic community; for fostering collaborative, adaptive leadership; for cultivating empathy and compassion toward ourselves and others on our complex, often challenging, shared human journey. This happens best in direct, personal connection with others who share these intentions and aspirations.

  • Place Matters. As human beings, we are inseparable from the places we inhabit. But many of us have forgotten how deeply bound we are to the living earth, for the physical and emotional nutrients that literally sustain our lives. All humans are embedded in deep evolutionary time, offspring not only of other humans, but of the places we call Home. Mindfulness roots us back in Place through the cultivation of presence, grounded in real time, and attentive to the living fabric of our immediate physical surroundings. At a time when online trainings and apps have come to dominate the mindfulness world, it is more important than ever to reclaim the ancient lineage of in-person, real time connections, rooted in a practice of place, as antidotes to the disembodied nature of online communities, and the isolation that can attend our growing dependence on social media as a primary context for community. 
  • Practice Matters. Realizing the true depth of our own inner life is a prerequisite to our capacity to connect with others. It also lies at the heart of our deep, intrinsic bonds with nature. Realizing the truth of our interdependence - with self, with others and with nature - requires practice. The tools for building these connections are readily available to all, and in fact already lie within us. But it is easy to  miss, because it runs counter to our culture of busyness and distraction, and counter to the sped-up nature of our increasingly tech-driven lives. These core connections need to be uncovered and nurtured. Building a stable practice of mindfulness happens best within a community of practice, with the guidance of skilled teachers, and with attention to the importance of our physical bodies as essential allies in the quest for a more embodied wholeness. On Inside Passages retreats, daily kayaking serves to bring us into our bodies, and to bring our bodies into the presence of nature, in direct and visceral ways that further deepen our practice. Keene Channel Lodge offers an environment of beauty and natural silence that limits distractions, and that directly supports the development of a practice-based life. In this sense, it functions as a kind of "monastery in the wild", extending the boundaries of Self-exploration to include the wider domain of ecological belonging.
  • Training Matters. All Inside Passages teachers are highly experienced mindfulness practitioners. As mindfulness programs proliferate within mainstream culture, the depth of teacher training matters more than ever. All our collaborating teachers have years of training in both the traditional lineages of Buddhist meditation, and extensive silent retreat work under the guidance of master teachers, primarily from the Zen and Vipassana traditions. All have, in addition, experience in the emerging secular domain of mindfulness within evidence-based training models like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Inside Passages retreats are built upon a commitment to integrity and depth of training for all its instructors. Over the years, we have been privileged to collaborate on our Alaska retreats with respected teachers from both traditional and secular lineages, including Zen poet Gary Snyder, MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn, Zen teachers Norman Fischer and Nelson Foster, Vipassana teachers Rodney Smith and Mark Coleman, as well as Western religious leaders like Rabbi Rachel Cowan, Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, and Fr. Gordon Peerman, who are bringing mindfulness training into the core of their own faith traditions.